History of Willamette Valley Timeline

Willamette Valley is the most famous wine region in Oregon. Around two-thirds of all of Oregon’s wineries and vineyards are located in this region. Willamette is located in the northwest of the state, extending from Portland to Eugene. On the east side of the valley is the Cascade Mountain Range. These mountains protect the region from the dry climate of Eastern Oregon. On the western side is the Coast Range Mountains, which protect the valley from the cold Pacific Ocean winds, as well as the plentiful rainfall Oregon’s coast is known for. 

Within Willamette Valley there are eleven AVAs or designated wine regions. These smaller regions all possess a unique geographic or climatic attribute that sets them apart from the rest of Willamette. Many of these AVAs are very small, and only produce a small amount of wine each year. Additionally, all but one of the AVAs reside in the northern half of Willamette Valley. 

Willamette Valley’s Grape Varietals

Willamette Valley is best known for its Pinot Noirs. In Willamette’s short winemaking history they have managed to become one of the top Pinot Noir producing regions in the world. They are often compared to Burgundy, certainly the most famous Pinot Noir region in the world. Both Willamette Valley and Burgundy have similar cool weather climates that are able to produce extremely complex and interesting examples of Pinot Noir. The wines from both of these regions are often praised for their great balance of fruit and earth notes that high quality Pinot Noir is known for. 

While Pinot Noir is certainly the most famous grape in Willamette Valley, it’s not the only one. Wineries here are also making wines with Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, and many other grapes. The majority of the wines made here are still wines, but there are some wineries having great success making sparkling wines in this region. With more than 700 wineries located in Willamette Valley it’s not hard to find producers experimenting with new grape varieties and unique wine styles. 

Willamette Valley’s Late Start

Looking at the amount of success Willamette Valley’s wine industry has achieved, it is shocking to learn how new the industry is here. Prior to 1965, no one believed it was possible to grow quality grapes and produce good wine in the state of Oregon. However, everything changed in the second half of the 1960’s when three graduates of the University of California Davis’ winemaking program moved to Willamette Valley and started planting vineyards. It didn’t take long for the three of them to start producing high quality Pinot Noirs that proved many of the people who had doubted them wrong. The first three winemakers to start planting in Willamette Valley noticed the similarities between Northern Oregon and the famous Burgundy region in France, and developed a theory that Oregon could also produce very high quality Pinot Noirs. Their gamble proved to have paid off when their vines started successfully growing and producing top quality grapes.

Explore: Willamette Valley Wine Tours

In the last 60 years Willamette Valley has gone from producing zero wine to becoming one of the top Pinot Noir producing regions in the world. This is an amazing accomplishment that has been driven by a handful of dedicated winemakers and wineries. Below is a timeline featuring some of the key dates, events, and people in Willamette Valley’s short history. 

  • 1800 Vines arrived in the Willamette Valley

    In the mid-nineteenth century, vines arrived in the Willamette Valley, but they were not the acclaimed French pinot grapes for which the Valley is now famous; instead, they were table grapes farmed for consumption.
  • Year-1965 Willamette Valley Ava First Grapes

    David Lett, Dick Erath and Charles Coury, three UC Davis students separately moved to North Willamette Valley and established the first vineyards in the region. The trio proved wrong their college peers who had […]
  • 1966 David and Dianna Lett First vineyards in Willamette Valley

    David Lett and his wife Diana planted 13 acres of vines in the Eyrie Vineyard, a former prune orchard in the Dundee Hills. David Lett was in San Francisco awaiting the start of dental […]


“Willamette Valley Wineries Association | Willamette Valley Wines.” n.d. Www.willamettewines.com. Accessed December 14, 2022. https://www.willamettewines.com.

Categories: Wine History TimelinesTags: , , , , By Published On: July 6, 2022Last Updated: January 17, 2023

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!